Parenting after loss is hard
So here you are, about to return to work after a year of maternity leave. A year that has seen you break in so many ways, but one that has taught you more about compassion, vulnerability and strength than all of the thirty-six years that came before. Maternity leave wasn’t all cute baby classes, lunch dates and coffee-fuelled walks with other mums. I know you sometimes wonder if this is how it would have turned out if you hadn’t been so scared to make friends this time around. I guess we’ll never know.
Do you remember when you fantasised about going back to work? When you would walk in various parks for hours and hours, trying to get your baby to sleep, and made plans about how you could return to something that you felt good at? Somewhere that you felt like you. Somewhere that you felt in control. Do you remember those days when you truly believed that your baby would be better off being looked after by someone else, because they would almost certainly do a better job than you were?
Well, I am so glad that you didn’t give in to those thoughts.
Because whilst they felt real, they were not true. You were doing an amazing job. You were, and still are, everything to E. It was just incredibly tough. Spectacularly tough. At that time, you didn’t know you were depressed – or if you did, you had decided that you were not allowed to be. Parenting after loss comes with an additional burden of pressure: to enjoy and savour and appreciate every single moment. To feel infinitely grateful to have a baby in your arms. To make up for the guilt and shame that you carry for the death of your first baby.
It was too much for one person to bear.
You breastfed E on demand. You carried her for each and every nap. You did not leave her side because she didn’t want you to. You gave her every ounce of you even when there was nothing more to give. And you did that all by yourself. There was no place to go and find shelter and nurturance for yourself. No one to turn to. You carried each and every bit of that responsibility every single day. It was no wonder that you buckled.
I am so glad you didn’t cancel that GP appointment on the day that you felt a bit better. That you swallowed that additional gulp of shame at being referred to another psychologist for help. That you didn’t run when you realised that someone who you knew worked in the team (the psychology world is indeed small!). That you allowed yourself to be held.
Because in doing so, you realised that you were enough. More than enough. And that you were, and are, worthy of help – you just need to be brave enough to ask for it.
Slowly, but surely, the days have become brighter. Your shoulders have become lighter and the shine behind your eyes has started to reappear. You have been able to accept help from others and you are starting to believe that it is okay to do things for yourself – essential even.
And yes, since you have settled E into childcare, she has developed in ways that have made your heart swell and your eyes water. Her confidence has soared. The squeal and wriggle of pure joy and excitement when she sees you at the end of the day gives you a feeling that you cannot put into words. It would be so easy to say that this was the thing that you should have done sooner. But before now, she wasn’t ready. And neither were you.
I know that if you had this time again, you would probably do many things differently, but this comes from experience. What you must be sure of, was that you did what was right for both of you at that time. You did what you could with the resources you had and with the shadow of grief constantly nipping at your heels. And I am so proud of you for that.
I just wish that woman walking in the park back then could have known this too.